default avatar
Welcome to the site! Login or Signup below.
Logout|My Dashboard

Cowboy Ken entertains fair-goers with train rides

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 11:44 am, Sat Sep 17, 2011.

Ken Keiffer is the handyman of California fairs. After working in festivals for 35 years, he shows up ready to tackle any project, whether it is helping to set up rides, fixing electrical wiring or pouring asphalt.

Keiffer loves everything about fairs — especially his solar-powered train, which he will be driving during the upcoming four-day Grape Festival.

"I'm just a big kid at heart. I just like playing with my trains," he says in a striped blue and red train conductor uniform.

Festival attendees will be able to hop aboard his red train that holds 36 people to learn about the fair's entertainment, foods and rides. Because the train is solar-powered, Kieffer, who goes by "Cowboy Ken," can even drive through the agricultural building to show off different grapes and wine on display. And his tours are always free.

"I always say, 'Whenever you see my train and me, your rides are always free," Cowboy Ken said.

The train conductor started working in fairs 35 years ago after buying a pony to give rides to his kids. In the last 16 years, he started driving trains.

Cowboy Ken has gotten to know families over the years while working at festivals. He is now giving train rides to the grandchildren of some of the kids he took around on ponies.

"It's exciting. The people are wonderful. There are special people who, every year, come to see me," he said.

Over the years, he moved from a gas-powered train, to diesel, to propane, to electric, and now to solar.

His 6-year-old solar train has six batteries that are usually charged by a solar panel on the roof, but he can also plug it in and charge them with electricity.

He can run everything from the batteries, including his wireless P.A. system and Christmas lights. It takes five hours to charge in the sun, and then it will last for seven hours of driving.

Cowboy Ken designed the train over a period of 4 1/2 years before having it custom built in Belgium. It is made out of completely recyclable materials, and if he ever needs a new train, he will send it back to Belgium, and they will use the different parts to build a new one.

It is the only solar, battery-powered train that runs without being on a track in at least six Western states — California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Idaho and Nevada. Cowboy Ken said it might even be the only one in the entire United States.

For the Grape Festival, Cowboy Ken arrived at the fairground early Tuesday morning, and by 3:30 a.m. he was working on fairground maintenance.

"Whatever I can do to help better the fair industry, that's what I'm going to do," he said.

Dressed in blue-and-white striped overalls and a red-and-white striped shirt, Cowboy Ken worked on his 42-foot train on Wednesday morning.

His conductor's hat has the train's name, Rawhide Express, across the top. He named it after his ranch in Cool, which is a small town near Auburn.

He will live on the fairground in a 38-foot trailer, complete with pictures of his children and satellite TV. He usually cooks for himself and avoids fair food.

"I've eaten so many corn dogs, Thai cuisine, kettle corn and ice cream that nothing sounds good anymore," he said.

Cowboy Ken would not disclose his age, but says he thinks he can still outdo most 25-year-olds and he hopes to continue working for fairs for the next 15 years.

"My favorite part is from the moment I drive through the gate until I leave. You have to have a passion for what you do or get out," Cowboy Ken said.

The Grape Festival is Cowboy Ken's favorite fair because of his bond with the organizers. Because it is late in the season, he also said all of the vendors have settled into a routine, so there is not as much cussing or loud noises as earlier fairs.

"It's like coming home to family ... I don't miss too many fairs when I leave, but I miss this fair," Cowboy Ken said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodi news.com or read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/city_buzz.

Reference Links

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Use your real name. You must register with your full first and last name before you can comment. (And don't pretend you're someone else.)
  • 2 Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually oriented language.
  • 3 Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
  • 4 Be truthful. Don't lie about anyone or anything. Don't post unsubstantiated allegations, rumors or gossip that could harm the reputation of a person, company or organization.
  • 5 Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 6 Stay on topic. Make sure your comments are about the story. Don't insult each other.
  • 7 Tell us if the discussion is getting out of hand. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 8 Share what you know, and ask about what you don't.

Welcome to the discussion.


Popular Stories


Should graduations return to the Grape Bowl?

Lodi Unified leaders are moving Lodi and Tokay high school graduations from the Grape Bowl to the Spanos Center at UOP in Stockton. They cite limited seating, costs and unpredictable weather at the Grape Bowl. But others say graduations at the Grape Bowl are an important Lodi tradition, and one reason many supported renovating the stadium. What do you think?

Total Votes: 30


Mailing List

Subscribe to a mailing list to have daily news sent directly to your inbox.

  • Breaking News

    Would you like to receive breaking news alerts? Sign up now!

  • News Updates

    Would you like to receive our daily news headlines? Sign up now!

  • Sports Updates

    Would you like to receive our daily sports headlines? Sign up now!

Manage Your Lists